published Saturday, December 10th, 2011

Provide for wildlife in winter

I hate to make lists that separate the good from bad wildlife animals. They are all God's creatures and should be treated with respect.

It is like the lists for invasive trees, weeds or bugs in our yards. The pesky ones are just out of place. Some people encourage the dandelions, honeybees and bats to live on their property. Others don't want to see a single ant crawling through the lawn. Do you think Noah protected his ark from woodpeckers, boring beetles and termites?

This is the time of year when animals are looking for a warm place to stay for the cold winter. Hopefully, they won't set up house in the crawl space or under the porch.

We protect our homes from damage and invasion by some species. We sometimes fail to help the creatures that serve important roles in nature. More and more habitat is being lost to home and commercial development. We can help by turning our yards into winter feeding areas for birds and other wildlife.

There are numerous ways to support beneficial wildlife in the landscape. Landscaping for wildlife is gardening at its very best.

Wildlife support

Wildlife needs food, water and shelter during the winter. Leave most shrubs unpruned until spring. Plants that hold some of their fruits through the winter, such as apple, crabapple and cherry, provide a vital food source for wildlife. The dried remnants of plants and shrubs provide shelter as well as food for winter wildlife.

Many animals will use a dead tree or stump in the yard for nesting. Make sure there is no safety hazard. They can also serve as perching sites for eagles, hawks, owls, herons and kingbirds and feeding sites for nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Consider investing in a heated birdbath, which other creatures also can use for their drinking water.

Birds often need a little supplemental food during the winter months. There are many types of feeders and houses specifically designed to let the desirable species of birds or mammals get first dibs.

Landscape quilt

Increased plant diversity gives rise to increased animal diversity. A mixture of habitats arranged in a patchwork mosaic arrangement provides the best diversity. For example, an island of wildflowers or shrubbery in the yard breaks up a large lawn. This makes the area more inviting for a variety of birds and animals.

Planting trees, shrubs and wildflowers that are beneficial to wildlife usually is the single most encouraging thing you can do to improve wildlife habitat around your home.

If woods already surround the house, consider planting smaller trees and shrubs at the edge of the woods. This gradual transition makes the area attractive to many more species of wildlife. Avoid straight lines or rows in the plantings. Create winding, natural looking areas where two kinds of habitat, such as shrubs and lawn, meet. These edge areas provide the widest variety of perching places, nest sites, and food for the birds. Develop secluded areas of shrubs, conifers and mixed plantings

"Birdscape" the area with evergreen trees and shrubs that protect birds from bitter winds and freezing rain. Birds love the dense cover and fruits that hollies provide. The native red maple has red flowers in February that are a delicacy for finches. Deciduous trees such as oaks, chestnuts and hickories provide nuts and good nesting locations. Conifers such as pines and spruces provide cover, sap, seeds and nesting sites. Plants such as cinnamon fern and thistle provide soft nesting material.

Broken limbs after a storm or branches pruned can be kept in piles for birds and wildlife.

Birds like to forage through brush piles looking for insects. After the holidays, put the Christmas tree on the brush pile. It will provide nesting and roosting sites for species such as bluebirds, owls, wrens, flycatchers, wood ducks, nuthatches, chickadees, swallows, titmice and woodpeckers.

For more information, see UT Publication PB 1633 online at

Contact Tom Stebbins at or 423-855-6113.

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